Thursday, May 31, 2007

Links #38

Surface Computing

Popular Mechanics takes a look at Surface Computing.

Who doesn't want one of these?

One Rat Short

The sad but cute love story of two rats. Short movie by Alex Weil. Winner of Best of Show and People's Choice at Siggraph 2006.

Anatomy of a One-Punch Knockout

This National Geographic video confirms the legend of the one punch knockout and shows the anatomy of what happens to the body when you are punched that hard.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Word In Your Ear

Went to the aunt and uncle's house last night as my cousin was over from New Zealand which was the ideal time to pick his brains about X, Y and Z. We talked about a lot of things which made us rethink some plans, big and small.

He came over with his youngest of three kids, as his other children are now teenagers who are old enough to reminisce about Northern Ireland, and he has become homesick for a country he cannot remember. So they are on the tourist trail this week and todays itinerary will take them up the east coast and long to the Giant's Causeway - long established as a place to see but not to travel to (as there is next to nothing much to see on the way there).

We got some great advice and support across the spectrum from putting us up, arranging with his friend to get a good car for us, to recommending what to bring with us i.e. apparently good shoes are very expensive and hard to find so we should bring as many pairs with us as possible.

He also stated that wine and beer is expensive which I thought would be the opposite since New Zealand is a (fairly large) wine-producing country. The good thing though is that the Guinness is supposedly the second best in the world next to Ireland so that is great comfort to me.

With only four months left before we leave, this sound advice came at a great time and we will surely be researching more into these avenues more over the next few days.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bank Holiday Weekend

Just in time to spite us, the weather has decided to shed it's silver and grey robes and dazzle us with its naked glory on our return to the working week. Still, the long weekend afforded me plenty of time to lounge around and soak up plenty of relaxation.

On Saturday we had a house-warming to attend and our friend had bought a flat above a row of shops 15 minutes by bus ride from the city centre. As seems to be a sign of the times these days or really a matter of the time when we get on a bus, there were the usual suspects on board. First up is the unruly young teenagers barely out of double figures that have an unholy grasp of the English language and spend their entire time on the bus listening to atrocious tunes on their phones and singing along to it giggling and attempting to insult anyone else on board that looks their way.

Next up is the drunk old man who attempts to look sober by walking at half speed but gives the game away because he not only looks drunk but of course is still acting like a drunk by leaning against the bus drivers window and taking an overly long time examining the change in his palm before offering the drive what he thinks is the correct amount before grabbing his ticket from the machine like he's taking part in a tug-of-war competition and staggering off down the bus, lurching forwards as the bus takes off. Luckily he sits several rows ahead so we can't smell his breath.

We get off the bus directly in front of the row of shops which is extremely handy if you're living here of course. You can tell that many decades ago there was probably a butcher, greengrocers and newsagents here to serve the local community but time hasn't been kind to local shops and there's a few closed shops and a laundrette. Nevertheless the area seems quiet and we make our way up the staircase.

There's already a dozen people as we arrive and we are introduced to people whose names I have already forgotten by the time we sit down and are offered champagne. The table is spread with all kinds of treats akin to a 5 year olds birthday party which is great and I tuck into a Fifteen.
There's a fairly eclectic mix of people here and we get into a talking group of a teacher, solicitor and her Scotish fianceƩ.

We get talking to the solicitor and husband-to-be about relocating from Glasgow to Belfast and tell them our own journey that will be taking place in four months time which doesn't seem too far away at all now and Lou and I are starting to get that feeling which lay dormant before as it was too far away to start getting excited about.

Saturday is then spent cruising on the internet looking at guided tours and plotting out the direction of our holiday from Auckland. Yesterday, the dialogue revolved around buying or renting a car or mobile home for the 6 week tour. We have decided for the time being that buying a car might be the best option and camping/hostelling around which gives us the freedom to do what we want and also have a means of transportation afterwards. Decisions, decisions!

Saturday afternoon afforded us the quickest shopping trip in the history of Knocknagoney as everyone must have buggered off for the long weekend before noon and pushing the trolley up and down aisles became almost a non-chore as none of my pet hates occured and we escaped in record time.

On Sunday evening, Keith popped over and we went through a series of awful horror films which we talked over the top of or ejected from the machine before settling on music and conversation. By 4am it was time to call the procedings to an end and I had a delicious lie-in until noon. The sun had decided to show its face and we ate lunch outside. Further lounging followed and the long weekend finished with watching a film in bed. Glorious.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Gamespot #67

Star Island

Neat little side scrolling action game.

Guide your star using arrow keys and spacebar. collecting all the stars and reach the goal.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Links #37

Stephen Lynch: Craig

From a rare passage of The Bible, Stephen Lynch teaches us about Craig, in song.

Wikipedia - Stephen Lynch

News I'd Like to F**k

Samantha Bee on the Daily Show talks about hot TV reporters. Or as she puts it: "News I'd Like to F**k."

Wikipedia - The Daily Show

Wikipedia - Samantha Bee

La Vieille Dame et les Pigeons (The Old Lady & The Pigeons)

An early Sylvain Chomet animation. While American popcorn-eating tourists wobble around and pigeons are too fat to fly, a starving French gendarme is desperate for food.

Wikipedia - Sylvain Chomet

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Punch & Judy: Shake To Activate

A colleagues accident at home this morning took me on a tangent trip down memory lane - toothpaste to be specific.

After exchanging pleasantries, she revealed that she had spilled a little mouthwash on her blouse and I replied that we had this strange horrible mouthwash at home whereby the bottle is required to be shaken vigourously to activate its contents which is just ridiculous. The bottle contains two layers of liquid - one blueish and one greenish. Once shaken they combine to a foamy mess.

Here's the mouthwash in question: Dentyl pH Smooth Mint. You're supposed to pour half a cap full out and rinse for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of gargling, before spitting the stuff out and 'seeing the results' in the sink. I concede to rinsing it around my mouth and 30 seconds seems appropriate but then gargling it for a further half a minute? Have you ever tried this? After 5 seconds you're ready to quit. Can you imagine hearing this from an ajoining bedroom? You'd think something was wrong.

To add insult to injury the stuff tastes horrible and after spitting it out, it leaves green blobs on your tongue and you want to use another mouthwash just to get rid of it.

But I digress. The conversation we had turned to toothpaste and in particular, I remembered one I used as a child - Punch & Judy toothpaste.

It's great to see that this is still being made. It's pretty difficult to get a child to brush their teeth but if the toothpaste is a tasty strawberry flavour then the job becomes a lot easier. Now as an adult, everything has to have a mint zing, a lightning white finish and computer graphics to persuade us.

It's a shame they don't make a punch and judy version of mouthwash because if you were on the recieving end I think I'd rather kiss someone and get a faint hit of strawberry than a ultra-mega mint zing especially if you look at women's lip balm - not a mint product in sight.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

No Sugar Coating for This Candy

Article by K.A.

Being a vegetarian for over six years has forced me to read a lot of ingredients on food packets before I buy anything. With today's food standards this has come as a shock to me, as some ingredients in foods simply don't belong there.

Shortly after turning vegetarian, I was with a group of friends who wanted to go to McDonald's. Not finding anything on the menu that looked appealing let alone meat-free (no surprise there then), I opted for the milkshake, only to be informed by another vegetarian that the ice-cream you'd expect to find in a milkshake had been replaced by animal fats in McD's outlets to cut costs but provide a similar consistency to other shakes.

This is great for Mickey D's profit margins, but it's not so good for vegetarians, who would be buying these drinks without knowledge of the ingredients (which are not on any of the packaging, making choices for vegetarians, vegans and people with food intolerance's impossible). Ever since I have been checking out what products are made from, as even vegetarian-sounding products like milkshakes fall foul of many standards that would otherwise make them vegetarian-friendly.

So I was very let down when I read this about Mars and Masterfood's, who had decided to include rennet in their products. Why they would do this with almost 4 million vegetarians in Britain alone and even more people concerned about the weird crap that goes into foods these days is beyond me. But the thing that really ticked me off was this statement:

"If the customer is an extremely strict vegetarian, then we are sorry the products are no longer suitable, but a less strict vegetarian should enjoy our chocolate"

Allow me to directly quote the dictionary definition of a vegetarian to you. I'm sure you don't need this, but as a massive, international company managed to miss the mark by such a phenomenal degree, there may be one or two of you out there who this might actually catch off-guard: "a person who does not eat meat for health or religious reasons or because they want to avoid cruelty to animals"

That means no steaks, no burgers and definitely no calves stomachs. I, like all vegetarians, will happily eat dairy produce and other forms of animal bi-product that do not hurt and are not fatal to the animals concerned, such as milk, cheese and the like (people who do not are known as vegans. So it disappointed me that I would have to cut so much chocolate from my life, given that I have cut so much from my diet already.

I feel that I am doing the right thing in a world where most people are turning the other way when they see something like this. It's seen as a hassle for most people to have to go to the bother of boycotting companies when it would actually benefit them to be more pro-active.

Many companies that have been around for years have changed their ingredients, usually for reasons of profit and price, to cheaper, synthetic ingredients in order to increase their profit margin. Each change alters the flavour slightly and, by now, most creators of the foods and drinks would not be able to say the current product tastes anything like their original. It seems crazy that most people are happy with synthetic ingredients or cheaper substitutes when these things do not actually benefit the consumer - they only benefit the profits of the companies producing them.

So I sent an E-Mail of complaint, along with my wife, to Mars/Masterfood's in order to let them know how unhappy we were with the change and how we would no longer be purchasing their products. Little did I know that, for possibly the first time, thousands of other people were thinking the same thing...

Within days I read this. What a victory! Suddenly I realised that, if something is made public enough (or handled badly enough by the producers concerned), there are slowly but surely a growing number of concerned consumers that are willing to stand up and make themselves heard.

This must only be a good thing for consumers, who can now begin to enforce corporate responsibility and culpability regarding their products. We are starting to see, now more than ever, that we have the power to stand up to these companies and make them take note. We pay their wages, make their profits and therefore have a say in what we get. Surely if people get to vote on a government, the old saying "vote with your feet" should still apply? Maybe it's time we started to use this underused voting right to affect changes in the system that will benefit us.

As such I have now taken the fight to my own personal nightmare arena - the alcohol industry. Until recently I had no idea that so many beers contained or used animal bi-products in their creation. I was aware that Guinness contained such things, but I was wholly unprepared for this.

Many of my favourites are on the "vegetarian unfriendly" list, thanks (mostly) to the brewing process using isinglass, obtained from the swim-bladders of fish. So I am hoping that enough people will take note and begin to change their drinking habits.

It's not hard to do and there are many animal-free beers out there of high quality: Becks, Bud, Carlsberg, Coor's, Duvel, Grolsch, Harp, Heineken, Hoegaarden, Holsten Pils (also a diabetic-friendly beer - go Holsten!), Kingfisher, Michelob, Miller, Rolling Rock, Tequiza and many more.

Most wines are good too, and you will be happy to know that cider and spirits are completely vegetarian-friendly (with cider being 100% vegan), just in case you can't be bothered remembering which beers to drink :D

There are enough quality beers out there that taste great and are isinglass-free to mean that producers of non-vegetarian beers have no excuse not to change.

I don't expect this to make any readers vegetarian, or to try to sway you to the cause. I simply would like you to consider the ingredients that go into your foods and ask yourself if you think your Stella should have fish in it, or your McD's shakes to have fat instead of ice-cream. Surely these things we assume are obvious to us should also be obvious to producers, and if they aren't going to pass on the savings from using such ingredients to their customers then why should we tow the line?

It's time we stood up for ourselves and demanded better standards from these companies. And just to prove I am not a vegetarian on a rant, here are some non-vegetarian reasons to back up my point:

Coke-Cola's vicious cycle of crimes in Columbia, South America
Nestle exploits HIV/AIDS in Africa
Nestle tries to claim $6 million from Ethiopia during famine
Chocolate companies turn a blind eye to child slave labour

I'll let you decide if companies should have this sort of control over us or not, but any company happy to allow child slaves to work 80-100 hour weeks is not a company I want to be involved with. It's not hard to change your diet, but collectively it may change the lives of millions of people for the better.

Know what you're buying. Know what you're eating. Know what you're hurting. Then know what you can do to help.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Books

The Books are an interesting band in that they continue to produce records that incorporate hefty uses of sampling but unique because it is all from obscure videos which they sift through whilst not touring and use chopped up sections for background projection when they play live.

The Black Box seems an ideal venue for their set and Colin and I get a front row table looking on to two huge screens either side of the stage. Modern electronic sounds emanate from the PA as an old Russian movie plays which seems to glorify Bolshevism and Lenin. It is an old documentary possibly from the 1920's or 30's because it interviews a young woman as she smiles remembering the intensive labour she endured for the cause and an older farmer recalls the amount of wheat produced for Lenin.
Unfortunately the music rarely fits to what is onscreen and after watching this prelude for half an hour or more, we are more than ready for The Books.

The place is packed as they take to the stage and after a short introduction, they begin a live acoustic performance played with prerecorded electronics and synchronized video. Paul de Jong plays accoustic guitar and sings whilst Zammuto plays an electric bass which he plays with a bow.

The music is very much different to that of their records in that the songs have more structure, melody and vocals and it is fascinating to flit between watching them play and the chopped up images on the screen changing to the music.

After a few songs they do a cover of Nick Drake's 'Cello Song' which goes down a treat and fits in with the rest of their material which is mostly light spirited and the videos contain a lot of humour. It reminds me of Manitoba aka Caribou which use a similar setup and I would love to see a collaboration between them both.

Overall it was a really enjoyable gig and the only minor quibble has nothing to do with the band or the venue but that age old thorn in the side of people talking during the performance which can be heard over the main act.

If you get a chance to go and see them, do it.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Gamespot #66

Pinch Hitter

Not having a Wii to play on caused me to choose this weeks game of Pinch Hitter where you must simply choose the right time to swing and hit the ball as far as possible.

Highest score wins an ego boost!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Links #36

South Park: Night of the Living Homeless

Part 1

Part 2

The number of homeless people in South Park is increasing as they eat, sleep, and beg for change across the town. While the adults try to find creative solutions to deal with the homeless, the boys are trying to figure out a way to solve the problem for good.

Richard Pryor: Kids Telling Lies

A hilarious insight gag on how kids tell lies to cover up their mistakes.

Jet Blast Blows Truck into Water

Commercial airliner demonstrates the effects of jet blast. Blows a truck away like it was paper.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

28 Weeks Later

The problem with horror sequels is that they never live up to their prequel in terms of originality, plot or acting and most first horror films don't even have any of those three to begin with.

28 Days Later elevated itself above the genre and helped push through similar movies into the mainstream and now we are saturated with piss-poor follow-through's and god-forsaken remakes.

28 Weeks Later could have explored many avenues in post-apocalyptic Britain in the aftermath of zombie-infested cities such as survivors and their day-to-day fear and after-affects of such huge devastation which could have allowed for the odd "zombie-still-alive-here" scene or two and perhaps pit them against Mad-Max style road groups scavenging the countryside.

Instead the film opts for the easiest option imaginable. Let's spin forward 6 months later and have another outbreak.

What you have is essentially the same movie as before only with different actors acting badly, a different location and the same old sh*t hitting the fan. But we'll throw in a weakly disguised twist to pretend we're doing something new.

28 Days Later is an appalling, ramshackle mess masquerading as a tough new sequel but is actually the film studio dipping its toe in the water for releasing a juggernaut movie franchise purely for making money.

I expected so much more from this film but was so very disappointed. If I wasn't stuck in the middle of an aisle I would have walked out like others in the theatre.

Avoid this movie like the plague.

I would give this film 2.8 savage bites to the neck out of 10


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Suit You Sir!

As part of wedding preparations for friends Chris and Eva, and as the best man, I had to have myself measured for a suit. The first thought I had was that I don't know anywhere to get this done within walking range of work. The second was a recollection of a Friends episode when Joey recommended a tailer to Ross and inappropriate cupping was involved.

I wonder if straight tailors are annoyed and disimayed at their profession continually undermined as a homsexual profession in film and media i.e. The Fast Show, The Italian Job etc. Personally, I care not of the persuasion of any worker, only that they are competent in their job. And no funny stuff goes on - but that goes without saying. Imagine hiring a clown who ends up reading Sartre to your children.

But I digress. I finally revisited the place where my parents bought me two suits after graduation in 2001. One was a light green suit for graduation which still looks surprisingly wearable considering it's a light green suit. The other was a grey suit for interviews of which it has been worn for 4 successful times. Good old dependable grey. It never goes out of fashion. If you were to meet a race of aliens, you'd wear a grey suit for neutrality incase colour offended them and you'd have trade routes set up within a lunar cycle.

After explaining to the tailor what I needed, he was happy to oblige and set about wrapping my waist and chest in measuring tape. The outer leg followed and finally my head needed attention. According to guidelines for hats, I should be measured 1 inch above the ears. He said he had never measured a head before (insert insidious remark referencing second paragraph here). *sigh*

So now I have all the measurements except for some reason I have to give my weight. This is tricky because I do not, never have or ever will own a pair of scales. Thus I will have to weigh myself when I'm next at my folks place and especially before Mum serves dinner and I'm offered a fifth helping of spuds and three kinds of dessert.
At least when this is finally done I'll know my weight and waist size, go on a mad slimming diet and not fit into my suit. It'll make for a great speech when my trousers fall down half way through.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Johnny Bramwell (I Am Kloot), The Empire

Last night was a fabulous intimate gig at The Empire with Johnny Bramwell from I Am Kloot who is taking a stripped down acoustic show across the UK and Ireland to road-test new material from their as-yet-untitled fourth album which is due out some time soon.

Tables were laid out with candles and the lights were turned down low giving the place a feel like you were in a safe place as a storm raged outside. Previous candle gigs have not proved strong on audience turn-out possibly due to it being on a Sunday and I remember seeing Patrick Wolf a couple of years ago play to no more than a dozen people although it proved to be a fantastic night.

As the warm-up act took to the stage, there were around 30 people nicely scattered about making the room seem fuller but adequately filled. A local duo whose name I cannot recall rattled through 4 songs of dubious quality. The will of the gods were truly against them as the lead singer's lead fell out on one song and his string broke during the next.

Bramwell took to the stage immediatly after their last song finished and after introducing himself, launched into 'Storm Warning' from their first LP. In fact, first album songs seemed to be the mainstay of the performance with two or three nearly finished tunes from their as yet unreleased album albeit with one or two choruses left unwritten.

The audience was overtly quiet during the performance which was jokingly picked up on by Johnny although the applause and encouragment between songs was strong and loud. The night ended all too soon however thanks to an AC/DC cover band playing in the basement but the audience got their money's worth and I'll certainly be back in the near future if the band come to showcase the new material.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Gamespot #65

Four Second Frenzy

Recommended by Don, this is one mad fast crazy game. You'll need lightning skills to progress through each level.

Or just close your eyes and click like you've never clicked before!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

27th Birthday Photos

It was a funny year for my birthday because I kept forgetting I was 27. I imagine I've passed that marker now where it's just another notch and I've no hard feelings on the matter as I don't feel old or anything. I think it just seems to fit me and that's not a bad feeling at all.

They say the most important thing in life are friends and I was surrounded by them on a pleasant, if slightly overcast, Saturday afternoon for a BBQ birthday party.

I recieved some great presents including a sleek looking black Nintendo DS Lite and the boardgame Risk which I've been meaning to play for years after having a drunken attempt on St Patricks Day many years ago and having a laugh trying to defend my dwindling but happily inebriated population.

The outside party lasted well into early evening until rain forced us inside where drink and candlelight took us well into the wee hours.

Thanks to everybody that came and here's to next years birthday in New Zealand!

The rest of the pictures can be found here courtesy of Jenny.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Belfast Marathon 2007

Article by K.A.

May 7th was the May Day bank holiday and, as usual, the Belfast Marathon had been timed to coincide with this. Jenny and I had both entered the marathon relay and both of us chose the longest 7.1 mile route for different reasons.

For me it was because I was in a running group and it seemed doable, for Jen it was because she needed an extra member on her team and this was the bargain she reached - she'd run the longest leg as a challenge if the fifth member of their team joined up.

But before the marathon had even began there was trouble brewing - the first two legs ran around ouur area and meant the roads were completely closed. There was no way for us to get out of the house to make it to the start of our leg on time! Eventually we managed to get a taxi through the course, but by the time we got to our start points we were thirty minutes late.

Apologising terribly I headed off on what I knew was going to be a hard leg: 7.1 miles, mostly uphill and with the rain looming ever closer. However the rain soon disappeared from my mind as I started to struggle only two miles into the course. Typically I had started too quickly in a useless attempt at making up some of the thirty minutes that I had caused the team to drop.

The first part of the run was filled with ups and downs, not a single flat road in sight. Once we hit the Antrim Road the trouble really started. This looked like an ordinary and relatively easy road, but it was deceptive as it slowly climbs its way uphill towards the Belfast Zoo and Glengormley. The contour map doesn't do justice to the height of the climb and, looking back, I could have sworn we were much more than 100m's above the city. It certainly felt like we'd climbed more!

The downhill run to Gideon's Green was thankfully rather easy and I found it strange that it was here that BPM (the energy drink company) had decided to give out free drinks to competitors. Perhaps it was more for the full marathon runners than the relay runners. Whatever their reasons it hadn't even began to kick in when I hit Gideons Green, passed the batton my team mate and practically collapsed on the grass!

That made a total time of 1 hour 15 minutes (from 11:05 to 12:20) or 10 minutes 34 seconds per mile. Slower than last year by about half a mile per hour, but a longer and much demanding course. It works out at just under 6mph - pretty slow when you look at it that way!

Jenny came in a speedy 15 minutes after me at 12:35, around 12 minutes 41 per mile. Not bad at all for someone who claimed they were going to "probably end up walking more than running". Obviously she surpassed herself this time round and we've been so spurred by this that we've already entered the Lisburn 10k run. Anyone else up to the challenge?

A full map of the Belfast Marathon and more information can be found here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spiderman 3

When we last left our friendly neighbourhood spider, he had destroyed Dr Octagon, things were going well with Peter Parker and Mary Jane but Spiderman still had one thorn in his side - his best friend and enemy, the Green Goblin.

The problem with trilogy's is that in some cases, the director tries to squeeze too much into the last film be it to tie up loose ends or send the third film off with a final bang. In the case of Spiderman 3 it seems to be an adding of villans with every sequel as well as the above.

In this film, Spiderman faces off against three clear and life-threatening enemies: The Sandman, his old rival the Green Goblin, and his new arch enemy Venom. All while attempting to save his relationship and New York citizens at the same time. It's surprising he doesn't need rehab.

One important plot point in several million-to-one odd occurances within the film, is that the gooey evil that is Venom just happens to land via a meteor, hitting the earth mere yards away from Peter Parker, no ones shirt ever seems to get ripped apart by explosions and Bruce Campbell gets another cameo. Scrap that last one actually, that was obvious.

Flaws in packing too much into the storyline and taking liberties with plot starters aside, Spiderman 3 does roll along at a nice steady pace with plenty of action alongside (some limited) character development and some great shot pieces. I believe less could have been more in this third film but it still stands up beside the others.

Anyone who enjoyed the first two films will not be disappointed in what surely must be a wrap on Spiderman. Besides plenty more bad guys in the bad guy Marvel comic catalogue, I think the director Sam Raimi knows there is not much left in the Peter Parker side to develop and any further sequels would only end up being pure action flicks of the "Vs" variety.

Spiderman 3 is a great popcorn action flick and any directors cuts that extend the running time to make better use of huge amounts of plot packed into the theatre version can only be welcome on the DVD.

This film gets 6.9 webslings out of 10.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Orchestral Manoeuvres in Belfast

Last night we were in the Waterfront Hall for the opening concert to kick off the 8th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. The main reason for going was to see Duke Special perform songs from his album 'Songs From The Deep Forest' with The Ulster Orchestra as his backing band.

It wasn't all about the Duke though as two other artists were sharing the stage and the orchestra, Julie Feeney and Foy Vance.

Julie Feeney was first on stage and was playing songs from her album '13 Songs'. The album won the Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the Year 2005 but judging by tonights performance, I'm not sure why. I thought the song structures were weak, the lyrics were appauling and her voice, albeit classically trained, just served to annoy rather than entice. The audience were also told that her songs would sequence into each other and were instructed to appluad twice, at the start and the end. This served no purpose as none of the songs merged into each other but at least I only had to clap twice.

Next up was Foy Vance of which I knew nothing about. Apparently one or two of his songs have ended up on Grey's Anatomy which I guess puts some money in his pocket. He had a great voice and his songs went down very well. However, his guitar was mostly overwashed by the sound of the orchestra and the lyrics were a bit too lovey dovey for my tastes but nonetheless it was an enjoyable performance.

Finally Duke Special took the stage and at first you could be forgiven for thinking there was a wardrobe error because after being introduced, the orchestra played through an entire song without the presence of him or the band. When it gave way to 'The Teddy Bears Picnic' however, the fans were clued in and roared approvingly when he made his enterance. Despite a little faultering, perhaps due to nerves, it was a great set and it came to a stop all too quickly. After selling out the Ulster Hall and now having the Ulster Orchestra back him at the Waterfront, it's difficult to see how Duke Special can top this, besides releasing another cracking album and breaking through as a major artist. One can only hope.

You can listen to the performance here for the next 7 days.

As this is a bank holiday weekend, I'll be back on Tuesday with the round-up of birthday party shennanigans. Thanks for stopping by and see you soon.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

27th Birthday

After a delicious lie-in and a quick breakfast, Lou and I took off along the Causeway coastal route towards Glenarm. It was a glorious summers day in spring and the morning was heating up nicely.

The route took us past old family haunts where our folks would take us on warm sunny Sundays and they would relax with other parents whilst Keith and went crazy on the swings and roundabouts before munching down on ice-creams or lollies.

Glenarm claims to be the oldest town in Ulster, having been granted a charter in the 12th century. The park is an 800-acre nature preserve once part of the demesne of Glenarm Castle, but now dedicated for public use as a peaceful woodland trail. There are three paths to take and we took the longest 2 mile trail and as you can see it was perfectly tranquil and we only passed two other couples on our way around so it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

After building up a hunger for lunch, we went in search of a pub to rest and relax. However, after enquiring in one bar we were told that no pubs in Glenarm serve lunch which is rather odd. However, since Glenarm is only the first of the nine Glens of Antrim, we drove a little way round the coast to the second glen, Carnlough, and had lunch in the Londonderry Arms Hotel which was formally owned by Winston Churchill. I ordered the crispy cod which was delicious and highly recommend it.

After driving home along a different coastal route through Carrickfergus, we attempted to chill out with a beer in the back garden but it was just too hot and we had to retreat indoors for a game of Wii bowling. After a quick wardrobe change, we jumped in a taxi and headed for the Spaniard which was quite empty and we sat down to some tapas food which was just the thing after a large lunch, all washed down by a bottle of red wine. Delicious.

We attempted to gain entry into the all but empty Cloth Ear for drinks but the bouncers deemed Keith's attire unsuitable so we shunned the vacuous excuses put forward and made our way to the Northern Whig for cocktails. It was the perfect way to finish a great day although my head is full of cobwebs today!

We're off to the Waterfront Hall tonight for Duke Special and The Ulster Orchestra opening the first night of concerts for Belfast's Cathedral Quarter festival so tune in tomorrow for a full report.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Customer In Front Is Always Wrong

As usual on Saturday, it was time for the weekly shop. As you all know, I cannot stand shopping, especially for food. It's not the inane task itself but the people that constantly get in your way by abandoning their cart in the middle of the aisle etc that makes it the most unpleasant repeat activity known to man.

On this day, however, I could add two more things to my list. One is harmless in itself but hilarious to look at. It's the dainty girl who doesn't want to push around the big cart and chooses the smaller one and by aisle 12 the shopping is piled up over the top and it looks like a bad game of Jenga.

The second was the person in front of us at the checkout who, after paying for everything, wanted an additional item or a replacement and instead of getting it themselves, we had to wait while they called someone who doesn't know what they're doing or what the fickle customer actually wanted. I kid you not, we were standing there for 20 minutes before the stupid %&*&* got a bloody air freshener(!) and went on their way.

On the way home I stopped into Jenny's house to borrow her lawnmower to cut my back garden. About half-way through it made the most unholy sound imaginable and after turning the power off and flipping the machine over, I noticed one of the blades had broken off. Great.

We jumped back in the car and made our way to Homebase. DIY stores are another type of building I hate. Big, expansive and devoid of life, slowly sucking your soul from the momment you walk in the door. And you can't find anything and you spend half the time trying to find someone to help but they're mid-way helping somone else and if you're in the garden section you begin to think about committing sepeku with a pair of shears.

You'll be glad to know that after going to the Helpdesk, we were pointed in the right direction and left with spare blades, the garden was cut and before long, we were sunning ourselves and enjoying a cold beer.

On Sunday we invited some friends over for a BBQ using the new heater of meats and a good time was had by all. After worrying about the cloud obscuring the sun, they soon disappeared and sunscreen was required by all. Bring on next week.

As it's my birthday tomorrow, there will be no update as I will be busy being pampered but a full update will feature on Thursday. Thanks for stopping by and see you then.

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